Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the Civil War
by Margaret Humphreys, Johns Hopkins University Press.
Although field conditions were seldom amenable to any soldier’s health, the treatment of wounds and disease improved considerably during the war. However, in Margaret Humphreys’ intriguing new book Intensely Human: The Health of the Black Soldier in the Civil War, we find that the death rate to infection and disease was much greater for African-American soldiers than their white comrades-in-arms.
Humphreys draws from studies conducted by a few dedicated—and curious—field surgeons in the Union Army. The results probably aren’t too surprising, given the conditions under which many blacks had lived as slaves and the typically substandard conditions under which they soldiered. Civil War scholars will appreciate the revelation that there were studies of this problem at the time, but may cringe that the findings were distorted into racial stereotypes after the war. Still, it is surprising that it took so long for this to come to light.
Originally published in the August 2008 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.